Fayetteville's VA hospital chief earned bonus

Fayetteville ObserverJuly 16, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:

Elizabeth Goolsby has a thankless job. As director of the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, she oversees an understaffed hospital under the aegis of a dysfunctional bureaucratic agency while trying to provide urgent services to a soaring population of veterans near the nation’s biggest military base.

The VA earned its lackluster reputation with years of complacency at top levels. But it’s nothing compared with the pattern of ineptitude and fraud that’s emerged in recent months. Tasked with an impossible directive to speed up treatment without additional medical personnel, some VA employees created fake waiting lists and played other games to hide the unacceptable delays faced by many patients, including those with life-threatening war injuries. Employees who refused to cheat faced harassment.

Showing good numbers was important. Substantial bonuses went to many VA officials based on the phony statistics. Meanwhile, some veterans languished untreated for months or years. Some died.

The resulting scandal brought down VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who failed to recognize the size of the problem. It’s led to calls for top-to-bottom reform of the agency, including a freeze on bonuses. Some cheaters who collected may be asked to return it. They should also be fired and prosecuted, not just for the fraud but the harmful negligence of our veterans.

Elizabeth Goolsby received a bonus of $6,912 for her work in 2013. There’s anger over those bonuses, but it appears she earned it. The Fayetteville VA facility has its share of long wait times. In fact, they’re some of the worst in the nation. But that’s due to a population of former military members in its service area that grew six times faster than the VA had provided staff or funding for.

Goolsby didn’t cheat. Despite facing the same temptations as execs at other facilities, she ran a clean operation. Will investigations find incidents in which some people under her made unethical choices? Perhaps. But based on everything we know, Goolsby set a tone for trying to get the job done honestly while pushing for improvements.

In warfare, some units are assigned to capture unassailable positions against overwhelming odds. Some shrug off the order. Some make a feint before falling back. Some do what’s necessary to gain as much ground as possible.

Goolsby’s team is credited with efforts leading to construction of three additional sites, which should improve access to care. Despite tough conditions, they advanced.

Fix what’s wrong with VA. And hire more administrators with Goolsby’s initiative.

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